Open Data Scotland (6th and 7th November 2015)

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This was the first open data event of its kind in Scotland, combining speakers, lightning talks, an Expo and workshop sessions, and attracted 85 people over the two days, coming from around Scotland. This blog post focuses on particular moments from the two day event, but more information including presentation slides, images and videos are available on the event website. This was a successful event because of the informed speakers, the enthusiasm for open data, and the diverse range of organisations and individuals who attended.

The first speaker was Rowena Simpson from the Data Management and Identity Verification Team at Scottish Government. Publishing the national open data strategy and resource pack this year, they have just announced a programme of open data training days. Framing the event, her talk made clear the importance of open data within the wider context of national data strategy, and was a great way to start the day.

Next up was Mark Braggins from OpenData Aha! and late of Hampshire’s open data hub. His ‘Open Data postcard’ presentation was a wonderful picture of open data stories, activities and organisations south of the border. His talk was never going to be long enough to share all the use cases, good practice and great individuals who are working together to blend open data development with innovation, transformation and new thinking to change lives. The highlight was the defibrillator story from Trafford, a case where open data really has saved lives!

To use Mark Braggins’ term — the aha! moment where someone understands the power of open data — we all had one of these when David and Andrew Ferguson from Edinburgh Prewired gave their lightning talk about RailCode, the product they developed for the Festival of Code this year. Although RailCode — which uses London underground data to teach coding — is a great idea, and already attracting commercial interest — it was the speakers’ clear and sensible explanation and promotion of open data which had the whole room hooked. The applause and buzz of discussion that followed their talk spoke volumes. This was possibly one of the best moments of the day, and was still being talked about on the Saturday!

There were two break-out sessions on the first day, led by Code the City, who have recently become the first ODI Node in Scotland. A great achievement, #opendatascotland were delighted to invite them to run these sessions and the workshop on Saturday. Break out groups in the first session were working with CTC’s ideation kit, and sharing back their ideas on the set challenge. This was an enthusiastic session, and a chance for everyone to mix together and network.

After a fantastic networking lunch, Ritchie Somerville from the City of Edinburgh Council shared his thoughts on the journey the Council has taken towards embracing open data. Understanding that an opportunity such as Nesta’s Open Data Scotland programme may have been the starting point but also finding partners such as the University of Edinburgh, Open Knowledge Scotland and Code the City, and creating open data sharing opportunities through a new approach, EdinburghApps, all elements that helped develop an ecosystem enriched with local developers and creatives, helped the Council to gain the momentum necessary to set up its data store and portal, build a number of open data products.

Ian Watt, Aberdeen City Council, began his talk with an open data explanation from Helsinki city region — our second aha! moment of the day, explaining how Finland’s approach, and future understanding, has made open data normal practice, informing city decisions as well as local citizens awareness. Ian went on to cover why open data matters, the importance of engagement and an eco-system that includes local citizens, academia, designers and developers, the different innovation approaches that underpin this and the need for inspiration from others. This was an aspirational and inspirational talk, again stimulating a buzz in the room. Ian indeed asked how we would ‘continue the buzz’ and challenged participants to fill in the actions they would take after the event

Although coming later in the day we had two fantastic speakers who provide thought provoking discussion for participants as the formal part of the day came to an end. Firstly, Ivonne Jansen-Dings, Skyping in from the Waag Society in Amsterdam, gave everyone a flavour of what might just be possible with creative approaches such as creating mini sensors and offering them to 100 local people to record a range of data that could then be re-used to inform thinking and decision making with a much more focused approach. A wide-ranging presentation, Ivonne kept the audience absolutely focused, some achievement for a speaker not even in the room!

Our final speaker, Ewan Klein, Professor of Language Technology in the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics, posed some direct but very pertinent questions on quality and range of data sets, the need for development funding and a challenge to the Scottish Cities Alliance to take part in International Open Data day in 2016. The talk formed a fitting coda for the event, raising awareness of Scotland’s place in open data and strong calls to action.

For those participants taking part in Saturday there was a final break out session where Lego had a major role! The StrategicPlay session with Lego Serious Play was based on the challenge statements being focused on what open data challenges people faced at work, identifying the key issue in the challenge and what the simplest thing to try as a step towards a solution might be. There were some fascinating constructions, but common themes involved bridges, layering together and awareness. A great way to finish the first day of Open Data Scotland.

Throughout the day participants were able to drop in on the Expo outside the main presentation space and indeed here from the Expo itself, with lightning talks from Tirami (code4europe), Edinburgh Libraries (EdinburghCollected), Bubbal, The Data Lab, Urban Big Data Centre and Prewired . Opportunities for more in depth chat about open data innovation and use cases created a regular hum in this space, and meant that participants went away with a wider awareness of potential projects and innovations.

The Saturday workshop was made up of a smaller but very focused group, who, after initially work-shopping ideas for the day, split into three teams. The range of knowledge and skills in the teams led to some interesting discussions and development. There are a couple of blog posts about these, which can be found on the Media page.

Each team concentrated on one idea, which allowed for more development in the time available, but left a lot of ideas sitting on the wall. It would be great to see some of these being discussed more online, maybe through the Scottish Government’s Knowledge Hub group?

The ideas:

1. Building case studies for open data advocates — there are already portals out there with case studies, although some work is needed to collate them and make available in one place. For new open data advocates, or anyone just trying to figure out how to access data sets, a generic flow diagram would be helpful. This team started work on one, and is looking for partners to test this.

2. Have you ever analysed data without full knowledge of all of the original data sources and how they mesh together? This team worked on developing a process around what happens when someone is working to combine several sources of input data into one new open data set. In these data collation efforts, documenting process and making this documentation available to others, has huge benefits.

3. How do you get people interested in data that are not comfortable with digital? What is the catalyst that would make them want to do this? Identifying topics that are real for citizens, and making the data sets easy to use, plus providing support, would be a great way to build a community of interest.

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